Wednesday, June 29, 2011

roxy, rocking it.

Rob's Dad has a small airplane at a local airport near us, and every year he has a BBQ there. We like to bring the dogs because there is some wide open space in the bark part of the airport that is surrounded by trees and brush.  It's a safe place where the dogs can truly run, because there is nowhere to go.  Sure, we have a yard, but if Roxy were to run at full speed in our yard, she'd hit the fence in 3.2 seconds. So she usually runs in circles, which just doesn't provide her the same ability to run as hard as she'd like to.

The airport BBQ was two weekends ago, and we brought Roxy and Buster, a ton of treats, a ball, and of course, plenty of water.  There were probably 20 people there, plus a handful of kids.  While we were with everyone else, the dogs were on-leash and they were so well-behaved.  They normally are well-behaved anyway, but I was still very proud.  Neither pup jumped on anybody, and everyone had questions about them and remarked on how well behaved they were.

First and foremost, Roxy wasn't fazed by any of the people that were there. Nada. Zip. Zilch. People were coming up to say hi, ask questions, and talk about their own dogs, and both Roxy and Buster were soaking up the loving. Yes, that's right -- ROXY was soaking up loving from STRANGERS.  And multiple strangers, at that.  The owner of the airport came over, and she even commented on how far Roxy has come since the last time she saw her (which was last year).  ROXY WIN!

Could it get any better? Of course it can... and it does!!

There were kids running around, and they were just kids being kids:  running, playing, screaming, popping balloons, crying, and laughing. But Roxy was relaxed the whole time.  We kept our distance from the kids, but even in the past, Roxy would have been very concerned about their erratic behavior.  She would have been hypervigilantly watching their every move; her neck would have been stretched up and out, her ears forward, and she would not have taken her eyes off them.  I could be trying to feed her a steak, and she would take it, all right, but if she had to turn her head to the side, she would find a way to keep her panic-stricken eyes on the strange 2-legged creatures that were running about and screaming.... which meant she was nibbling on whatever I had while subsequently swinging her rear end around to make sure her back was not to the kids at any given moment.

Now, we have been working very hard with relaxing around little kids.  We've done work anywhere from 5-30 feet away from kids, depending on a number of factors.  And when we first started working, she had a super rough mouth when taking treats, and she would try her darnedest to take the treats without ever taking her eyes off the kids.  But on Sunday, Roxy chose to lie down and ignore the kids.  She was relaxed and evidence of that is in my fingers. She had an incredibly soft mouth, even when the kids were running about and screaming.  And really, the only noise that spooked her was a balloon popping, but she perked up for a moment in response to the noise, and then went back to relaxing.  Roxy's ability to recover from the balloon popping really impressed me -- in the past she would have kept looking for whatever caused the noise for at least several minutes.  And her ability to lay down and relax while the kids were running around was incredibly rewarding for me... it was also very rewarding for her considering I was randomly shoving stinky fish treats in her mouth. Nevertheless, Roxy was so relaxed and happily soaking up attention from strangers, despite the added trigger.  I couldn't be happier.

Later on in the day, Rob and I meandered over to the secluded field in the woods.  We dropped the dogs' leashes and just let them run.  Roxy was a dream -- she would run full speed out in front of us, then stop at about 30 feet, turn, and wait for us to come closer. Sometimes she would turn and run back to us to check in, and then off she went again.  Buster just sort of followed Roxy around, being his normal, happy-go-lucky self.

I had brought some awesome treats to do some recall work, because every opportunity is a great opportunity to practice Roxy's recall in new and not-so-familiar places.


I venture to say she's doing pretty well.

Of course, there is always more work to be done, but we're making big progress, and she's becoming a more relaxed and happy dog, overall.  All of this makes me incredibly happy, and I can only imagine how much it's helping her to feel better about all these things going on, as well.  I am very proud of her.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

sonny came home

Week 1 with Sonny
Sonny came home with me the last few days of January. In the 4+ months he has been with me, he has grown and changed so much.  He started out hiding in my bookshelf, then hiding in his crate, and hiding in the closet for hours at a time.  If you touched him, he would cringe and cower.  A few weeks ago, he began snuggling with me.  My boy that spent the 1st day in my house hiding in a bookshelf, the rest of that first week hiding in a closet, and the next month plus in his crate, learned how to cuddle, just before he went to his forever home this weekend.

I can't even begin to describe how much he's grown.  The difference in his behavior from his first couple of weeks is indescribable. I could see it in his eyes; he went from petrified and frozen stiff to pure love and being full of wiggles.

His initial progress was only when he was around my dogs, Roxy and Buster. And once he stopped trying to jump the fence and he was allowed to run and play in the backyard, he made a lot of progress.  He began running, jumping, and playing in the yard.  He was fetching (or at least, chasing) the ball.  He got curious and started exploring things, he began relaxing on the couch, and he was freely jumping up and down the retaining wall in the backyard.  He figured out the routine and began responding to his name and to certain cues, like "Outside?" "Inside!" and "Are you hungry?"  He began voluntarily coming out of his crate and approaching me to play with him, throw his ball, and of course, to give me kisses or collect his dues (treats!).

When Sonny came home with me originally, he spent probably the first month in his crate, pressed up against the back bars so far that when he moved, you could see crate lines on his fur.  When I'd come home at night, I'd walk over and let Buster and Roxy out of their crates and Sonny would ever-so-cautious come out of his crate, but only after I had walked away.  I spent 90% of the time I was home thinking of creative ways to drop treats in his crate without spooking him.  And slowly, I began to notice progress in his face and body language when I would approach his crate.  It started with the fast-paced, only-moving-a-little-bit, still-nervous-and-unsure little tail wag, and it progressed to the full body wiggle and play invitations you see below:

When you work with a fearful dog, the little things are, in fact, monumental.  Sonny is seriously special to me; I adore him to pieces.  And I knew this day would come, where I would have to let him go, but I honestly didn't think it would be as soon as it was.  If keeping a third dog was an option for us, it would be ridiculously unlikely that I would have let this dog go.  Seeing him progress from the semi-feral dog he was, to the dog he is now, has been the most amazing thing to see.  Sure, he'll always be a little special, I'm sure, but this dog is happy, despite whatever previous neglect or abuse he may have endured. He has such a zest for life, it's incredible. He gets the zoomies like a puppy, he squeaks tennis balls while rolling on his back, he chases toys, and he literally bounces around the yard like a bunny. He still flinches when something scares him, but he is recovering faster that he was before.

Our last morning play session on Saturday.
Needless to say, saying goodbye to Sonny this weekend was not the easiest thing.  In fact, it was one of the hardest things I've done.  Despite knowing that he is in a wonderful home where he will grow and learn and be loved, I can't help but worry about my boy. This new adventure will undoubtedly stress him out, but I know it's the best place for him. His new family adores him and wants nothing more than to help him grow into the dog he has so much potential to be.  Luckily for me, his new family has agreed to allow me to visit him, but we'll obviously wait until he has settled in there and bonded to them.  The last thing I want to do is stress him out or confuse him more, so I get the feeling it will be months before I get to see him again. Although, I'm sure I'll get pictures.  But until then, Sonny is home with his new family and despite missing him, I am truly happy for him.